An Interview with Playwright Elizabeth Irwin
Summertime in New York City—a time for tourists, for bodies crammed onto sidewalks, for squashed subway cars and for stifling humidity. Those eating lunch outside on hot, hot pavement, demand constant refills on water. The men who earn their livelihood replenishing drinks as fast as they can know their own thirst will always come second.
Playwright Elizabeth Irwin worked for years alongside these overworked and underappreciated foundations of the service industry. Here in her own words, Elizabeth Irwin shares why she decided to tell their story, and her inspirations and aspirations for My Mañana Comes and the rest of her writing.
What was the initial inspiration behind My Mañana Comes?
I was inspired to write this play to put the question of what a political issue like undocumented immigration actually means to people who are directly affected it, both those who are undocumented and those who work alongside and have relationships with them. I worked in the restaurant industry for a long time and am fortunate to be able to chronicle this story.
What makes this story important? What makes these characters so interesting to you, even though their backgrounds are so different from your own?
Instead of looking at the interests of someone like a politician around the issue of immigration, this story looks at the people it actually affects and explores the complications and nuances of their lives. These characters and this story are interesting to me because they're human - none of them are perfect and none of the conflicts exist in a clearly black and white way.
You've been a teacher in both New York City and Mexico. What attracted you to teaching?
It’s not so much an attraction as a propulsion. I believe deeply in the power of education and the relationships between teachers and students to expand the choices of students and to remove limitations. Education as a tool to erase inequality is something the keeps me up at night. (Though I'm currently working on a play about this which fortunately is giving me a healthy outlet so I can sleep more!)
The play is set in New York, but it feels very relevant to California. Is the story of undocumented immigrants in America different in different parts of the country? What does your play say about the American Dream?
I think there is a common thread which is that when one is willing to make a change as drastic as leaving behind one's country, one's family, everything one knows, the stakes of success are much higher. That being said, "success" can mean different things to different people and this play looks at those differences because there is no one immigrant story. I hope this play sheds light on just how challenging it is to simply survive in the U.S. We can talk about the American Dream as something that you can achieve through hard work but we must also acknowledge the enormous amount of luck it involves and that the circumstances that one is born into has an enormous effect on whether it can be realistically achieved.
Who did you write this play for and why?
Like everything I write, this was something I couldn't stop thinking about or talking about and eventually you get tired of just having conversations about something and you sit down and try to make some art that can reach an audience and get people to think about things beyond their own everyday experience. This play is for everyone who cares about their fellow human and wants to understand them better. I hope this play inspires conversation, compassion, action, and/or acknowledgement of one's privilege, depending on how it relates to an audience member.